Why Bangkok Is the Best Place to Eat in Asia Right Now
The city’s culinary offerings tempt street-food adventurers and fine-dining gastronauts alike. Fêted chef Garima Arora shares how her adopted hometown keeps her hungry for more.
“If there’s one thing that will stay with you after spending some time in Bangkok, it’s the food,” says Garima Arora, executive chef and founder of the much-lauded restaurant Gaa, of the metropolis she has called home for the last three years. “As a chef, and someone who appreciates savoring and experimenting with different flavors and cuisines, there’s no more exciting place to be.”
The 33-year-old Mumbai native knows culinary excitement when she sees it. She opened Gaa in early 2017 after spending two years working under Gaggan Anand at his legendary (and recently shuttered) Gaggan. Arora’s hybrid approach to Asian fine dining, blending concepts and spices from her home country with locally sourced ingredients and international perspectives, has earned her a reputation as one of the region’s most interesting, boundary-pushing young stars. Gaa received a Michelin star a year after opening, the first Indian woman to receive that honor, and was named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2019 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Arora’s signature tasting menu at Gaa is a remarkable display of Asian influences and modern techniques. There’s a spicy duck doughnut and a chilled soup of guava, roselle, and fermented mulberries spiced with coriander, peppercorn, and lime—all very common in Indian cooking. Unripe jackfruit and homemade pickles are served with a roti-style taco, and organic burnt coconut sugar ice cream comes with pork floss, a common Thai topping. It’s one unexpected flavor after the other. “I hate the word fusion,” Arora says. “So the menu tries to go beyond a simple “Indian-inspired” or “Thai-inspired” description. A Bangkok resident since 2017, Arora wasted no time exploring her new home city’s culinary smorgasbord. Here, she guides us through the city’s best bites.
Thai Tastes From All Over
Because Bangkok receives an influx of people from all over Thailand, it’s the perfect place to sample the country’s astoundingly diverse regional cuisines. From the northeast come Isan dishes like sticky rice and pork sausage. From central Thailand: gaeng som (“sour soup” with tamarind, freshwater fish, and vegetables) and gooay teeo reua (“boat noodles” swimming in deeply flavored pork or beef stock). Thai Royal fare, influenced by the Bangkok-based royal court, is delicate and complex: sangkaya fak thong (steamed pumpkin stuffed with coconut custard), mieng kum (a bite-size appetizer wrapped in wild betel leaf), and gaeng ranjuan (beef soup with fermented shrimp paste).
Arora’s favorite? The spicy classics of southern Thailand, like gaeng tai pla (a thick fish soup), pad prik khing goong (stir-fried shrimp with vegetables), and bu pad pong karee (crab curry). Khua Kling Pak Sod, in Thonglor, is where she goes to satisfy her cravings. “It’s a small, simple eatery, run family-style,” Arora says, “but the food is always on point.” For a broader selection, she heads to Bangkok Bold Kitchen, a cooking school–meets-chef’s table in the chic Riverside Plaza shopping center. “It’s a modern Thai bistro with a stellar menu of staples like massaman curry, marinated grilled chicken, and stir-fried glass noodles with fermented pork and holy basil.”
Seductive Street Food
Bangkok’s culinary identity is rooted firmly in street food culture. Pushcarts, roadside stalls, and hole-in-the-wall eateries with a few flimsy plastic chairs have fed most local residents at one point or another—regardless of class—with fish balls, mango sticky rice, and barbecue-grilled pork. Hence the public outcry in 2017, when the city government announced a ban on street food vendors to make sidewalks more accessible. Two years on, the makeshift kitchens have yet to disappear (though some have had to relocate). For Arora, they’re an essential Bangkok experience, “possibly some of the best meals of your life,” she says. An example? Raan Jay Fai, a Michelin-starred street-side shophouse “restaurant” in Samran Rat serving seafood like crab omelettes and tom yum soup with shrimp. Expect a wait: The septuagenarian, goggles-clad owner Supinya Junsuta, a.k.a. Jay Fai, recently appeared on the Netflix series Street Food.
It’s not just Thai food the metropolis shines at. “Bangkok is a true melting pot of people and cultures,” Arora observes, home to thriving Japanese, Chinese, European, Burmese, and Indian communities, among others. That translates into a wide and authentic selection of flavors. “The city has possibly some of the world’s best Japanese restaurants outside of Japan,” Arora says, pointing to the Silom area for its izakayas, sushi bars, and late-night ramen stands. “Indian food is great here, too. My go-to spots are Sri Ganesha and Saravana Bhavan,” she says of the Khlong Toei Nuea and Silom spots known for South Indian specialties, including spicy cheese dosas. Craving something a little more Western? Arora recommends Enoteca, in Asok, one of Bangkok’s most exquisite Italian restaurants. “I go for its incredible wine list and the 15-year-old parmigiano reggiano served with aged balsamic—so good.”
Refinement on the Rise
Over the last few years, Bangkok’s fine dining establishments have become as revered as its street food stalls. White-tablecloth restaurants are in plentiful supply—many with striking city views to boot—leading Michelin to publish its first Bangkok guide in 2018. But haute gastronomy can be found in less conspicuous locations. Arora personally likes Sühring, which serves contemporary German-inspired cuisine in an intimate glass house overlooking a tropical garden in south Sathon. For a more casual but still well-heeled dining experience, Arora recommends the Mediterranean-inspired, produce-driven Quince, in Chit Lom. What to order? The barbecued baby octopus with spicy paprika butter and Jerusalem artichoke ajo blanco—a traditional Spanish chilled soup that’s served here as a spread.
Tasting today’s Bangkok is not just about food: An emerging cocktail culture is adding a measure of sophistication to the city’s infamously louche nightlife scene. “There’s an ever-evolving interest in the art of mixology—and great drinking dens to foster that interest,” Arora explains. Two spots she frequents for an after-work tipple are Tropic City and Rabbit Hole, “both really solid establishments when it comes to innovative cocktails.” The former is a boisterous tropical-themed bar tucked down a back alley in the up-and-coming area of Chaorenkrung; the latter, inside a three-story shophouse in Thonglor, is a dimly-lit speakeasy where classic drinks are served with technical twists and infusions, such as a martini with truffle-infused gin. For wine, Arora likes About Eatery, an Italian restaurant in Asoke, with a wide selection of natural bottlings from both old and new worlds.
New Spots on the Radar
“Bangkok is changing by the minute,” Arora says. “There’s a constant pulsating energy that runs through the city—always something different coming up.” On her radar at the moment: Funky Lam, a hip venue in Thonglor serving the cuisine of northern Laos—like kaipen, a crispy dried seaweed with relish, and minced duck—with a strong cocktail list to match. Another recent opening: Someday Everyday, a sleek fast-casual spot from chef David Thompson, formerly of Thai fine-dining institution Nahm. Near the Si Phraya boat pier, it serves various takes on khao rad gaeng (curry and rice).
Discover a Sense of Bangkok
Bangkok’s pulsating capital is fast-becoming one of the world’s leading destinations for all things creative, cultural and culinary. Find more Rosewood Conversations stories on this fascinating city here.
Gaa: 68/4 Soi Langsuan, Ploenchit Road Lumpini, Phathumwan; +66 9141-92424
Raan Jay Fai: 327 Maha Chai Rd, Khwaeng Samran Rat, Khet Phra Nakhon, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +66 9272-49633
Khua Kling Pak Sod: 98/1 Sukhumvit 53 Alley, Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +66 2185-3977
Bangkok Bold Kitchen: 257 Charoen Nakhon Rd, Bang Lamphu Lang, Khlong San, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +66 96-626-4519
Sri Ganesha: Soi 13, Khlong Toei, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +66 86-820-5875
Saravana Bhavan: 663 Si Lom, Khwaeng Silom, Khet Bang Rak, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +66 2-635-4556
Enoteca: Soi Sukhumvit 27, Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +66 02258-4386
Suhring: 10 Soi Yen Akat 3, Khwaeng Chong Nonsi, Khet Yan Nawa, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +66 2-287-1799
Quince: 14/20 Soi Somkid, Phloen Chit Road, Lumphini, Pathum Wan; +66 09-4868-2639
Tropic City: 672, 65 Soi Charoen Krung 28, Khwaeng Bang Rak, Khet Bang Rak, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +66 83-838-2750
Rabbit Hole: 125 Sukhumvit55 (Thonglor), klongtonnuea, Wattana; +66 98-532-3500
About Eatery: Ocean Tower II, Sukhumvit 21 Soi 3, Khwaeng Khlong Toei Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +66 92-907-2191
Funky Lam Kitchen: 235 The Taste Thonglor, Soi Thonglor 11 Sukhumvit 55; +66 2-050-0469
Someday Everyday: Warehouse 30, 52, 60 Charoenkrung Road 52, 60 Khwaeng Bang Rak, Khet Bang Rak